A confessional, hidden behind the wall of a gallery; a forest of withered white trees; a ritual of public mourning, illuminated by candlelight. In 2021, artists have transcended conventional museum presentations to engage the full range of senses. Instead of just looking at paintings, visitors to exhibitions around the world were invited to touch – and in some cases, play – the art. The smells of past plagues permeated the galleries, a ghost of the past or an omen of what awaits us. Below, an overview of some remarkable works that have mobilized our senses.
Anicka Yi, In love with the world
Over the past decade, concept artist Anicka Yi has brought the olfactory to the fore in several installations, permeating the galleries with biological agents that inhabit the space as memorably as any piece of art. tangible. Or, as she describes it, “sculpt the air”. This year, she transformed the industrial Turbine Hall at Tate Modern in London into her own petri dish. In the solo presentation, giant jellyfish-like creatures – “aerobes” or “biological machines,” as she called them – floated above the crowd. Sometimes the drones would descend towards visitors, drawn by their warmth. Each week, a new scent profile was broadcast in the lobby, some of which evoked periods of illness and extreme inequality in the city’s history, such as the smell of the bubonic plague.
“The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture and Sound Impulse” at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
This summer, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond presented a high-powered display, curated by Valerie Cassel Oliver, the museum’s curator of modern and contemporary art, who explained how sound was key to black artists’ innovations in the arts. visuals, particularly in the American South One in an exhibition that included the work of 120 artists, was a piece by New Orleans-based artist Richard Fiend Jones. Taking a 1990 Cadillac Brougham d’Elegance, he spruced it up with a booming stereo system and fine art, including a personalized license plate from Virginia, reading DRTYSTH. Elsewhere, a sound sculpture by Nadine Robinson made up of 30 speakers stacked in the shape of a church organ plays an audio collage of barking dogs and people in prayer; religion, hip-hop and politics abound, showing the fullness of black life in America.
Naama Tsabar, Perimeters
For his latest show, now showing at The Bass in Miami, Naama Tsabar transformed the museum with his in situ works that span sculpture, performance and architecture. Sound and touch informed the experience, as the gallery itself became a playable instrument. In the first work, the spectators were invited to pluck the strings of Melody of some damage (2021), scattered fragments of a broken guitar that Tsabar readjusted with piano and guitar strings. In an adjacent room, the audience could sing, shout, or whisper into harmless holes in the walls that contained pieces of string and motion detectors. The total effect is a symphony of singing and strumming led by strangers.
Maya Lin, Ghost forest
Between May and November, a ghost forest of Atlantic white cedars loomed amid the vibrant greenery of Madison Square Park Conservatory in Midtown Manhattan. Maya Lin, an activist whose artistic practice revolves around environmental vulnerability, brought the reclaimed grove to the city as an uplifting climate tale. Trees were once common on the east coast, but the population has declined dramatically due to unprecedented logging practices, windstorms and wildfires. Passers-by could touch the barren bark and listen to a soundscape created by Lin to honor the native species once abundant on the island.
Kevin Beasley, The sound of mourning
A small crowd waited at the intersection of Orchard and Rivington streets on Manhattan’s Lower East Side for the start of Kevin Beasley’s commission for this year’s Performa Biennale, though few knew what shape the piece would take. It is one of the busiest side streets in the city center; sirens were blaring nearby, somewhere in the distance, and cyclists and pedestrians jostled each other through crowds of spectators. Some watched from the restaurant windows, caught in the air of expectation. Then a group of young black women and men, equipped with body microphones, entered the intersection and spread out to its four corners. They lazily interacted with found or prepared items, shredded a newspaper, crumbled a paper bag, dragged a metal box on the asphalt. Beasley, working from a nearby DJ booth, mixed up the noises and played them on the street. The texture of the scene was amplified to bewildering levels – the burst of a Chapstick cap erupted above the head like a gunshot. All the while the phones were being trained on the performers watching their every harmless move.
Candy Chang and James A. Reeves, After the end
The process of After the end, a participatory ritual in the historic chapel of Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, was simple but touching: contemplate the loss. Next, describe what helps you endure. Paper and pens were provided. After the visitors recorded their thoughts, they were invited to place the pieces of paper on an illuminated altar. Then you can sit in the apse of the chapel, in the soft warmth of the candlelight, and listen to a soft ambient composition that crosses the room. Messages from the anonymous submissions were projected on the ceiling, revealing any form of loss experienced this year. “Grieving has changed who I am,” one read. It was elegant commiseration of isolation – together.